Think back to your high school prom and a few flashes of memory will come to mind - entering the venue, your favorite song coming on, or waiting to see who won Prom King and Queen. For decades, students have been electing prom courts to compete for the coveted title of Prom King and Prom Queen. Yet, some students are calling to usurp the throne for reasons you might never have thought of.
What Is Prom Court & Why Did It Start in the First Place?
Prom has surprisingly deep roots. Stretching back to the 19th century and promenades where people would parade with partners in society, prom really developed in earnest in the post-war period. A booming economy and rising teen culture created the right environment for a formal dance like prom to develop. Although there's no specific cultural memory of when the first prom court was elected, it goes back as far as your grandparents can remember.
Now, if your memory doesn't work like it used to, you might have forgotten how this prom court thing works. Essentially, the tradition is that the entire grade votes on people and the highest tallies for both boys and girls get elected to prom court. From there, students vote in another election on one boy and one girl in prom court to be Prom King and Prom Queen. The winners are usually announced during prom.
Prom Court Controversies Explained
If prom's well in your rear-view mirror, you probably remember the night fondly. For some, it might be the first place they'd jump back to if they could spend one day in their teenage years again. Yet, the prom court of yesteryear is a puzzle piece that doesn't quite fit into the modern-day puzzle.
Naturally, if you were on prom court and remember how exciting it was getting recognized in front of your peers and campaigning to win the competition, it can be hard to understand why anyone wouldn't like the tradition. And hearing any criticism about something you loved so much might make feel like the nostalgia and feelings you experience from those memories of being on prom court is in jeopardy of being taken away from you.
Instead of thinking about changing or getting rid of prom court as a judgment call on the prom courts from decades ago, think of it as a natural evolution.
Maybe you weren't involved in prom court or weren't in love with the tradition in high school either, but don't know what the current thoughts are surrounding it. Basically - society doesn't look the same as it did a decade (or more) ago, so prom shouldn't look the same way either.
The Gender Binary and Heteronormativity
Why the fuss around prom court you, you might be asking? Baked into prom court is the inherent adoption of the gender binary and heteronormativity. The gender binary is the idea that there are two gender identities people can experience (male and female) and with those come all sorts of expectations about how you can express those genders to the world. Heteronormativity is the assumption that the standard sexual identity is heterosexual (aka men and women dating each other).
The entire purpose of a prom court is to collect a group of kids who can each vie for the position of Prom King or Prom Queen. Yet, there's very little room in the tradition and language of Prom King and Prom Queen to include individuals who fall outside the binary (transgender, nonbinary, etc.). Electing positions based on the binary excludes so many teens who want an equal chance of winning the competition because it says there's no place for them on the podium.
Additionally, the system's not really a fair election because the two candidates in prom court who get the most votes can't be the same sex. Often, these Prom King and Prom Queen pairings are voted on as real-life couples, keeping the already paired together in this fictional world. In doing so, it communicates to students whose relationships don't look like those (aka a cisgender male and cisgender female) that theirs doesn't have a place at prom.
Colonialism and Harmful Language
As we're becoming a more inclusive and sensitive society, certain traditions from the past need to be called into question. Prom court itself uplifts a monarchial system that was based on oppression and colonial expansion at the detriment and death of so many people. Because of these connections with colonialism, prom court's language isn't primed for our modern experiences.
Where Does Prom Court Fit in Society, Today?
When you were wearing your sashes at prom, you probably never thought prom court could kick up such a fuss in the future. Yet, these conversations are super important to have whether you're discussing them with your kids or planning a prom yourself. It does beg the question of where does prom court fit into society today?
We, as a society, don't quite have the answer yet. It's something that's still evolving, but the first step is acknowledging that there could be a better system in place and holding these open conversations with others.
Ideas for Adapting Prom Court to the Times
Of course, all of this social evolution begs the question of what can schools actually do with their current prom court traditions. We acknowledge that every school's situated within and serves a unique community that'll want to handle the prom court issue differently.
To help you figure out which adjustment fits your teen's school and district the best, we've got a few ideas.
Say Goodbye top Prom Court
One idea is to get rid of the prom court element entirely. Without prom court, prom looks almost exactly the same. People still dress up, dance, socialize, and make memories that'll last a lifetime. So, for some schools, getting rid of prom court is the answer.
Use More Inclusive Language
Another option is to change the language around Prom King and Queen. Everyone likes to be a winner, but some people aren't included in gendered titles like king and queen. Instead, come up with a unique moniker to elect. For example, you could use Prom Champion, Prom Ace, Prom Victor, etc.
Create New Prom Rules
Consider creating documentation outlining new prom court rules. Chances are, your teen's school doesn't actually have any approved documentation outlining how prom court works. To be more inclusive, you can create modern documentation that lists any gender identity can be elected to either of the winning positions (aka, you don't have to have one 'boy' and one 'girl' win).
Expand Prom Court
You might also think about expanding prom court to represent your student body. Instead of electing individuals based on votes, you could have each large school-sponsored organization cast one of their members to be up for getting voted onto prom court.
Make Eligibility Look a Little Different
Setting up holistic criteria for who can be elected might be a way to change prom court too. Essentially, schools can encourage their students to be well-rounded by having criteria each student has to meet before being eligible to be voted onto prom court. Eligibility requirements can look like volunteer hours, sports/club involvement, community service, social support, school grades, etc.
Prom Court Doesn't Define Prom
It might feel life-or-death, but electing a Prom King and Prom Queen has no bearing on creating a successful prom. People can still dance their hearts out, get dressed up, and celebrate with friends and partners without ever having to be in competition with one another. So, just remember that you can still have a prom without a prom court and not lose anything special along the way.